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The media’s giveaway of their product

April 16, 2010

It has been many years since a newspaper has been delivered to my door. In that time, I have only purchased an individual copy a handful of times. The last time I subscribed to a magazine was in 2002. Individual copies? The occasional airport purchase is about it.

However, in the past three months, I have had regular “deliveries” of:  two daily newspapers, two weekly magazines, and one monthly magazine. Not hardcopies, but eBook versions.

And how much savings could I realize by choosing the digital editions rather their print editions? Based on current home delivery prices (Washington, D.C. area) and prices:

Print Subscription


Kindle Subscription


Washington Post $5.40 $11.99
New York Times $29.60 $19.99
Time $1.67 $2.99
Newsweek $3.33 $2.99
The Atlantic $2.45 $1.25

No real consistency in the the pricing schemes.  The Kindle editions tend to cost more–however, you can cancel the Kindle subscriptions at any time (and do not have to sign up for a year to get the low rate).

However, I actually saved a lot more, because I paid zero.

Piracy? Theft? No. Because mainstream media made a business blunder over a decade ago that will be chronicled in perpetuity in M.B.A. courses. They decided to give away their product for free–and most keep doing it.

With business good, internet speeds slow at home, monitors small, and technological-savvy generations just beginning to graduate; providing their content for free on the internet did not cut into their revenues. But it is clear that no longterm plans  (at least, effective ones) were developed to prepare for: a future generation of workers who grew up with computers; faster and more ubiquitous internet–first at the office, then at home, eventually in our pockets–and browser capabilities; and the diversification of news providers (web-only domains, blogs, craigslist, etc.).

Online ads helped subsidize some of the free giveaway, but for the bulk of the non-subscribing population, such ads are either always ignored or even blocked by their non-Internet Explorer browsers. Moreover,in the case of newspapers, nothing can make up for the continued losses from the death-spiral of the classifieds business.  It should be noted that the currently most successful newspaper–the Wall Street Journal–had already in place a revenue structure not dependent on classifieds.

Where to now?  Media needs to either provide content unique or superior to other available online content (and charge for it) and/or format its content in a manner that consumers are willing to purchase (as opposed to acquiring free similar content on a website).

Until then, I see nothing wrong with individuals obtaining such content themselves by using free, opensource software. The process can be slightly more cumbersome than subscribing to the periodicals at the Kindle Store, and the eBooks can often be deficient compared with their paid-versions (e.g. missing/duplicate/misplaced articles; awkward formatting). But as long as publishers keep the door wide open to their content, then individuals should not fret about reading such content in a manner more pleasant that their computer or smartphone.

Having said all of this, I now feel comfortable writing posts on how to obtain this free content on your Kindle, beginning with the subsequent post introducing the calibre software.

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